Followers of the Chinese zodiac will know that this is the year of the Metal (Gold) Tiger. It started on 14 February and will run through to 2 February 2011. And the beginning of the year is when all the predictions start to emerge - and is also a time when I find people either believe in horoscopes/predictions (if they are favourable), or dismiss them as a load of superstitious old rubbish if they are not!
This year, I believe them!! It seems to be a pretty good year for Roosters, for a change. Last year was supposed to be rough for us chickens, but whatever happened in the markets around the world, you really have to judge life from an overall perspective; are you healthy, do you have food and clothing, can you be happy - and can you do your bit to alleviate the suffering of the millions upon millions of people less well off than you are. It was only yesterday that someone sent me some depressing statistics; 80% of the world live in poverty, 70% of the world is illiterate and 50% are hungry. Whether or not the numbers are meticulously accurate is not important - they would still be too high even if they were halved. If you are reading this blog on your own computer, for example, you are in the 1% of the global population that owns a computer. The Download Global Village has a long way to go before it is developed!
So, if you do nothing else in the Year of the Tiger, at least do your bit for others! Then it will make two sides smile - those you help and you yourself!
Now, before we get into total depression mode, what about Britain's first solo Gold Medal at a Winter Olympics in 30 years? Amy Williams was born in the year of the Dog. It's a good year for dogs - apparently - and so it has proven to be in her case. Rabbits too, are due a good year so who knows, perhaps that well known Scottish Rabbit Andy Murray can bring it home at last!
As for Tiger (who in Chinese Zodiac terms is actually also a Rabbit) - Woods, what a shame about his staged "confession". Great golfer, great athlete, [and no comment from me on his private morals which he has to live with] but not much showing "from the heart" as far as I could see. He seems to fall squarely into the quote from Lord Byron when we wrote "Man's love is, of man's life, a thing apart; ''Tis a woman's whole existence". Anyway, as noted above, the Rabbit is supposed to have a good year in 2010 although not in the months of February or particularly September. Being part Asian maybe he should take Chinese horoscopes and Feng Shui seriously.
But to the more normal commentary, and China this time following on from my recent notes on Korea and Dubai.
Watchers of the Chinese banking scene have all commented on the recent changes in the position of the authorities with regard to bank lending. From the open encouragement of last year, where the main beneficiaries seem to have been people living in the rural areas, to the more recent exhortations to pull back the lending, and the increases required in bank reserve requirements in an attempt to at least temper the expectations of the marketplace without closing the door altogether.
But I am more curious about the effectiveness of some of the underlying rules being implemented in terms of bank lending in China that could well be a model for elsewhere. For example the imposition of, and differentiation between Loan to Value ratios for first homes (20%) and others (40%) - supported by what appears to be a pretty good credit reference bureau to avoid borrowers (and family members) visiting different banks in an attempt to circumvent the system. Lending requirements that call for absolute verification of income; none of this "tell me what you earn and I'll believe you" type of situation. Discouragement of changing banks and taking your mortgage elsewhere for a better deal. Make your bed and lie in it, seems to be the call which, of itself, will discourage banks from undercutting prices and becoming more competitive - so there are downsides. And one particularly interesting rule which prohibits securitisation of low quality assets!!
So the banks in China in 2010 are expecting a tougher year ahead - and they are certainly talking to me about it already, with particular regard to what they are going to do to attract new (and profitable) business during the year. Welcome to the real world - and expect to see a few more of them looking, very selectively, at overseas expansion opportunities. Links with suitable institutions will be important in those markets where they don't really have the expertise - and in particular those countries where the Chinese business communities are becoming more active. The Middle East, Africa and Latin America.
And just on the subject of the Middle East and China, I was talking to a friend the other day for whose wisdom on those subjects I have a lot of time - a rare Western gentleman who speaks both Chinese and Arabic - who is as convinced as I am that the linkages between these two regions is quite definitely being re-kindled. Low key for now, but watch this space.
I was going to write more about other events in China; the currency (stop pushing them to revalue or the heels will get dug in harder), and succession in the financial services industry, but in the interests of keeping the blogs at a readable length, this will have to be another time.
Have a good year.